As can be seen in these blogs I am anything but unspiritual, but I find argument for religions of the theistic sort nonsense, particularly ones which see God as participating directly in human affairs. It has been an annoyance to me for many years that ‘our Judaeo-Christian heritage’ is constantly held up in front of us as a source of everything good, whereas I would argue that our way of life owes far more to the Common Law, for example, and our Anglo-Saxon heritage of bloody-minded independence. I also believe that religious precepts are largely restatements of the Primate Code of Conduct we inherited from our remote ancestors. (Oh, and of course there is no such thing as ‘Judaeo-Christian’, there is Judaism and there is Christianity, that’s all).
What follows is just a unordered list of what I see as some of the most irritating and senseless ways in which religion impinges on our lives despite the fact that the majority of Australians are secular (either by designation, or by less than full participation in their nominal religion).
For years religious bigots have blocked attempts to make access to abortion legal, and are still making trouble in this area. You would have more respect for them if they encouraged a view of society in which men and women were totally equal and women were not disempowered vis a vis men, so that, for example, many women were not forced to have sex without contraception and risk unplanned pregnancies. You would also have more respect for the religious opponents of abortion if they promoted actions that might lower the demand for abortion, such as full sex education and easy availability of contraception.
In the more recent past religionists have also led the campaign to deny the wishes of a majority of Australians and block any legislation allowing for voluntary euthanasia.
It is also intolerable that the Australian Government supports religious schools. This is unconstitutional and should not be allowed to continue. (However, religious history (ie the study of religion in history) should be compulsory for all Australian school pupils. These classes should also teach the history of non-theistic religions (ie Buddhism and Daoism), these are usually ignored in school curricula.
What a freedom it would be for children not to have religious brainwashing! I know, of course, that very few children emerge from religious schools with a fully developed interest in participating in Catholicism, Anglicanism or whatever. However, what is more insidious is the way in which religious school entrench the idea of a ‘them and us’ society. The school which charge higher fees, of course, have as their purpose the inculcation of snobbery, so that people who have been to X Grammar School feel superior and entitled all their life (especially entitled to government payments to private schools so they can send their own children to their old schools or similar). However, even the humblest school, by its teaching of (usually) Christianity, imprints in the minds of children the idea of their being special and different from society. Instead of teaching pluralism, ie ‘Here is our society as it is, we are teaching the information and skills you need to be a useful member of it’, their school teaching can be expressed as something like, ‘God loves everyone, especially you. God wants us to come to Heaven with him, we should practise charity and caring on earth, but the really important thing is going to Heaven to be with God, and remember, you can, though we’re not sure about…..’
It is astonishing that male circumcision is still widely practised in Australia. Circumcision is a grotesque mutilation and as well as being a physical assault with lasting consequences for the man, it is an affront to women, as it detracts from full sexual functioning. It crept into secular society from some obscure source in C19 American Protestantism and has infected medical practice in the US where a majority of male children are circumcised at birth, and to a lesser extent in Australia (it is almost unknown in the UK). All infant circumcision should be banned in Australia and religious circumcision should only be allowed to men of Jewish and Muslim background once they reach 18, after a course of psychological and medical counselling.
[The fact that many men who are circumcised report no harm or problems because of it is not a valid argument for it. Of course these men aren’t going to admit that their parents did wrong in mutilating them for no good reason when they were babies.]
Religion still dominates the discourse around marriage and relationships. A way out of this would be for the state to refuse to recognise any form of marriage and the courts to deal with disputes about relationships and custody of children on common law principles. It would be then up to individuals to decide whether to have their relationships sanctioned by a religious or secular ceremony (which would have no legal standing).
Australians are also frequently betrayed by their elected representatives, who conceal their religious beliefs and the effects these are likely to have to their decision-making. As part of the electoral process candidates should have to sign a statement indicating their membership of any religious group and whether they would follow the teachings of this group rather than the wishes of their constituents in their decision-making. As well as this there should be a mechanism for examining whether elected representatives are following the teachings of a religious group in their voting record, and if this proves to be the case, for replacing them.
Prayers before the beginning of the Parliamentary year and before each session should also cease (what is to stop those parliamentarians who wish to from praying privately?)
Why does Australia still have diplomatic relations with the Vatican? The Vatican is not a state.
Government grant-giving bodies are frequently also swayed by the religious beliefs of their members. As far as possible such bodies should not have any members of religious groups on them to avoid this. (This applies particularly to bodies granting funds for scientific research, and especially bodies with oversight of ethical issues, which for some reason seem particularly overrun with priests).
The Public Service should also be areligious as it is apolitical (the APS Code of Conduct, for example, has no explicit sanction against the influence of religion in the work of the service).
[A note on terminology: I object to the terms ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ because it implies that God exists, only atheists are without her and agnostics refuse to comment on whether they believe she exists. That’s why I hardly ever use these terms. Instead I use unmarked terms such as ‘people’ to refer to anyone, whether religious or not, and ‘religionists’ for people who belong to a religion].
Next week: Grumble 10: Voluntary Euthanasia in more detail